Going for the Arab vote

BILL Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a Democratic Party contender for the presidency, made an unannounced appearance on Wednesday night at the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards dinner hosted by the Arab American Institute Foundation.



By Claude Salhani

Published: Sat 28 Apr 2007, 8:39 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:51 PM

Richardson is one of many presidential candidates vying for a go at the White House in 2008. For the moment he trails far behind New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from Illinois, Barak Obama and the very charismatic former senator from North Carolina John Edwards, who ran as John Kerry’s running mate in 2004.

Then comes Richardson in fourth place.

Many political observers inside the Washington Beltway believe that Richardson’s chances of beating the top three, or especially the top two contenders in his own party are slim to nonexistent. Richardson lacks the name recognition that his opponents enjoy; mention Clinton and everyone knows right away who she is and what she looks like. Being married to a two-term president has much to do with it, and the fact that Hillary knows how to stage her own media events.

Richardson lacks the charisma that his opponents have; mention Obama and again there is instant recognition. It also helps that Obama is African American, good looking and dressed as though he stepped out of some fashion magazine for men. Richardson, who looks as though he stepped out of the professor’s lounge in some Mid-Western college, is of Hispanic descent — though his name will not carry recognition with the country’s 8 million Hispanic voters.

And quite possibly Richardson’s biggest setback is his lack of deep pockets of campaign spending money his opponents have been able to raise.

In the first quarter of this year Clinton has raised just over $26 million for her war chest, putting her slightly ahead of Obama who has raised $25.6 million. Edwards, in third place received $14 million in campaign contributions and Richardson, in fourth place managed to eke out a dismal $6.2 million.

And that doesn’t take into account the Republican’s money. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts raised $20.7 million; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giualiani raised $14.7 million and Senator John McCain of Arizona managed $12.9 million.

This is money the candidates will use to buy airtime on radio and television, you dont need a degree in mathematics to conclude that $26 million buys you quite a bit more airtime than $6 million.

Richardson may have raised the least amount of dollars than all other contenders but he has qualities and experience more than the other candidates by the bucketful. At the outset he may not strike you the way Hillary does. Or the way Obama does, but listen to him speak. I was pleasantly surprised.

For one, look at his credentials: former US ambassador to the United Nations, former Secretary of Energy and US Representative, Governor of New Mexico since 2003. Additionally, he is one of the few Americans who has had some success in negotiating with communist North Korea, be it over the return of remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War, or in trying to convince the reclusive regime in Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme.

But that is all besides the point of this column. The point here is that Richardson bothered to take time out of his busy campaign schedule and put in a short appearance at the Arab American gala. Something none of the others have bothered to do. But Richardson came. And he addressed the audience. And in the short time he spoke – about 15 minutes – he completely changed my outlook as far as he was concerned. Of course, like almost every politician running for office Richardson, too, makes promises he knows that in all likelihood he would have a hard time keeping. But this is election season after all, and politicians will say and do what politicians say and do.

Richardson told a crowd of about 800 people gathered in a fancy Washington hotel that if he was elected president, there are two things he would do right away. First he would close down the highly controversial US detention facility in Guantanamo, Cuba. And second, he would withdraw American forces from the war in Iraq. And he would do so overnight. (Long applause from the audience.) This is what they wanted to hear – at least the Democrats in attendance, who seemed in the majority that night.

But realistically folks, should Richardson win the race to the presidency, would he really be able to pull the troops out of Iraq, and overnight? Closing down Gitmo may not be so difficult for the president of the United States. But pulling back the troops from Iraq is a completely different matter all together.

Campaign promises are one thing, but political realities on the ground offer a very different perspective of life. Richardson -– and other candidates — may be honest in their intentions of pulling out American forces from Iraq right away, but after their first briefing from the National Security Council chances are their outlook will change.

In the meantime candidate Richardson managed to woo a few more votes.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington, DC. Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com


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